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I'm pregnant... but it won't stop me working right up until the baby comes, says SDLP MLA Claire Hanna

By Suzanne Breen

Published 17/11/2016

Baby joy: MLA Claire Hanna
Baby joy: MLA Claire Hanna
Claire with her husband Donal Lyons

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna has revealed that she is five months pregnant - and that she intends to keep on working until she gives birth.

Ms Hanna, who is widely seen as a future leader of her party, is set to become the first politician in almost a decade to have a baby while a member of the Stormont Assembly.

The South Belfast MLA, who has two young daughters with her husband, Councillor Donal Lyons, said that despite her demanding political career, she always intended to have a big family.

"I come from a large family and I enjoy the chaos of a full house so having a third child had been the plan.

"I didn't want to look back in years to come and say, 'Well, I didn't have another baby because of the Assembly'," she joked.

Ms Hanna, who is due to give birth in the Spring, is understood to be the first female Assembly member to have a baby since Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew gave birth while Agriculture Minister in 2008.

The 36-year-old SDLP woman said she believed that the image of a pregnant politician continuing to represent her constituents at Stormont was a very positive one.

"Northern Ireland mightn't be that used to it but, given the increase of young women in politics, I reckon we will be seeing a lot more of it in years to come.

"It's important that women who are having children don't disappear from any job sector, especially politics where decisions of huge significance are being made about people's lives.

"So what is the exception now will hopefully become the norm in the not too distant future," she added.

Ms Hanna has two daughters - Eimear (4) and Aideen (2).

"At five months' pregnant, I'm feeling brilliant," she said.

"I was tired and had a bit of sickness early on but I'm over that now.

"I've been up at 7am to do BBC's Good Morning Ulster and I've been on my feet as late as 10pm for UTV's View From Stormont, but that's just part and parcel of the job and I'm well able for it.

"I intend to work right up until this baby comes as I did with my other two."

The SDLP MLA also revealed that, although she plans to breast-feed, she wouldn't be away from Stormont for a lengthy period after giving birth. "Obviously, being an MLA isn't a job with normal maternity leave," she said.

"I plan to take April off when the Assembly is mostly in recess anyway.

"Like any new mum, I'll be creating my own routine.

"I'm not the sort of person who ever switches off completely.

"I was a councillor when I was pregnant before, and I was back at meetings in City Hall a couple of weeks after I had my girls."

Ms Hanna, whose mother Carmel is a former SDLP MLA, said that she was fortunate to have a strong support system in place.

"My husband, Donal, is very hands-on and my parents and sister are just around the corner and pitch in when needed," she added.

"My mum and dad are absolutely brilliant.

"This will be their 10th grand-child, but the novelty has never worn off and they're just as excited about this one as they were about their first."

The SDLP politician said that she didn't know whether she was expecting a boy or a girl. "My sisters reckon it's a boy but I've done a wee bit of research and if you've had two girls, you're more likely to have another one," she said.

"Donal and I are talking about names, but no firm favourites have emerged yet."

The SDLP's Stormont team boasts considerably more young parents in its ranks than any other party.

Mark H Durkan has a three-month-old baby boy, Ferdia, and a two-year-old daughter, Lily.

Colum Eastwood's daughter Rosa celebrated her first birthday on the day of the Brexit referendum.

Nichola Mallon also has a one year-old baby, Elena.

Michelle Gildernew became the first serving minister in a Northern Ireland Executive to give birth when she had her third child in October 2008. Baby Aoise was born by water birth.

Earlier this year, Ms Gildernew disclosed that she had breastfed her daughter during an Executive meeting.

"It was only when I took her off and put her on my shoulder that they realised I was doing it," she said.

"I was feeding her and participating in the discussion around the table.

"We are women and we can multi-task.

"I regret not doing it (breastfeeding) in the chamber.

"I was talked out of it and I'm sorry I was.

"It's the most natural thing in the world and the best thing for a baby.

"I should have done that to remove the stigma."

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has also successfully managed motherhood and a high-flying political career. She first became a Stormont minister in 2007 when she had three children under the age of seven.

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